Och, laddies and lassies, ya dinna ken tha Tartan Day celebration is a happenin' in New York? Whot kind a Scotsman, are ye? (I actually think it's a lot like St. Patrick's day when everyone gets to be honorary Irish, at least for the corned beef sandwiches and pub crawl part.) As part of the Tartan Week celebration, which culminated in a rained-out parade on Saturday, William Wallace's sword was at the Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central for the celebrations. (2nd to the 10th, 11am until 8pm.) This is the first time the sword has left Scotland in more than 700 years — ever since the British murdered Wallace. (No Geneva convention back then. Oh, wait. No Geneva convention now! Bush repealed it. Forgot!)
I had been looking forward to the parade filled with bagpipes and hearing claidheamhmor pronounced with that delightful burr. (I picked up a taste for bagpipes in highschool since we had a Scottish marching band. Nothing like the sound of a cat being squeezed in ways it doesn't like.)
Anyway, the torrential rains dissuaded me from going to the parade since it seemed that not much was going to happen. I did go to Grand Central see the Wallace sword — I'm not going to Scotland anytime soon — where I met several Scotsman — in kilts with delightful burrs! — who told me there was a tiny parade segment during a lull in the rain followed by celebrations with single malts at pubs. (You can see some of the pictures of participants in whatever the Scots call ponchos over at Campbell's NYC. Frame site, so I can't link directly. Just pick "Photos->Tartan Day 2005->Tartan Day Parade.) They told me that the parade is always short, so if you plan to attend next year don't believe the Website that says it runs from 2-4 pm; the true time is more like 2-2:30 pm. When I commented that they'd come a long way for such bad weather they said, "Oh, we live here. In Queens." (Who knew?)
The sword wasn't worth a trip from anywhere, unless you're a military buff or someone who really hates the English. Or maybe if you are a huge fan of Braveheart. (Isn't everyone off Gibson films ever since The Passion?) I'm none of these, but odd bits of history interest me. One of the docents told me that the leather handle is an Englishman's face killed by Wallace in battle. I spent a bit of time with your friend and mine Google, but I couldn't verify this. Closest I came was that Wallace reportedly had an opponent's skin tanned and made into a belt. But who knows how true any 700 year old story really is, anyway.
The blade is very thin and weighs around five pounds. Swords had to be easy to wield, lest their owner be killed by a more agile adversary. Hard to believe that wars hinged upon, and so many men died, at the hands of such wispy, insubstantial blades nearly as big as their owners. (Remember, people were short because of poor nutrition.) The blades are frightfully sharp, though.
I've read that the cleighdemornach is not a weapon requiring much finesse. One landed blow would amputate limbs or cause such blood loss that death was guaranteed. It's also sharp enough to chop down a spear, which was the only weapon other than a sword posing a threat in hand-to-hand.
I'm a little bummed that it poured and I didn't get to hear bagpipes, but not at all bummed that I didn't eat any haggis. (Tastes offal!) Or tatties or neeps.
For those of you unfamiliar with the delights of Scottish "cooking" — I think there's a reason Scots were so eager to paint themselves blue and run buck naked into battle; they were fleeing dinner — Haggis is meat scraps, offal (lungs, heart, and liver), and ground oatmeal cooked in a sheep's stomach; Neeps are boiled, mashed, buttered and sugared turnips; and Tatties, well, those are mashed potatoes with milk (sometimes with nutmeg); and, finally, Orkney Clapshot which is Neeps, Tatties, and cheese, together in perfect disharmony. Yum! (Sometimes nutmeg is added to the potatoes and allspice to the turnips, and sometimes both are browned on the stove like hash; I have no idea if any of this tinkering could possibly be considered an improvement, but, after all, how could it make it worse?)
Oh, and for all of you vegetarians? There is a vegan haggis. (I mean, ok, but why would you want to make something that tasted like the original?)
So, for your Robbie Burns Day celebration, you might have a hard time finding a haggis here in the States (it's difficult to get them imported too; I understand that the USDA has declared them "unfit for human consumption" ...). Now you can make haggis yourself!
Our Beloved Haggis! The National Dish of Scotland
Unfit for human consumption? I think that's an understatement.